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December 07, 1986|David Graber

THE LIFE OF BOB MARSHALL: A WILDERNESS ORIGINAL by James A. Glover (The Mountaineer Books: $17.95; 376 pp). In the great hall of conservation's heroes sits a man almost unknown to the world at large. Thoreau, Muir, Leopold, and Pinchot have made it as immortals; Bob Marshall, as yet, has not. James Glover has taken it upon himself to correct that situation.

Born into a wealthy and prominent Jewish family in New York, Robert Marshall was an unlikely outdoorsman. But introduced to the nearby Adirondacks as a boy, Marshall took to the wilderness with unerring instinct. Thanks to his jurist father and the social responsibility he fostered, Marshall found his cause at a young age. Landing a position in the U.S. Forest Service in 1937, Marshall set about to convince his agency and the public to set aside a system of primitive areas lacking the evidence of man. He traveled and explored and wrote frenetically, covering scores of miles in a day's hiking, recording everything from loggers' eating habits to mountain peaks. Possessed of boyish charms and a goofy sense of humor which he practiced constantly, Marshall was able to use his social contacts to build a political base for wilderness: The Wilderness Society. Dying suddenly at age 38, Marshall left a baseboard from which a great movement was to spring.

Glover's biography is scholarly and readable, emphasizing--perhaps unfortunately--the details of Marshall's life at the expense of a better understanding of the political and conservation context in which he performed his phenomenal accomplishments.

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